Traditional Chinese Name: 木耳红枣茶 (mu er hóng zǎo chá)
This tea is posted as a post natal/confinement tea and is drank only within the first 0-5 days of confinement to help eliminate the lochia (not going to go into detail what lochia is, but please google it if you’re not sure). It’s a simple tea with 3 ingredients (the meat is optional if you’re vegetarian) and very easy to make. It’s a sweet, slightly tart tea and must be drank hot/warm. It’s one of the better tasting teas I know available for confinement! You can boil a whole big batch for 5 days worth, refrigerate and then reheat when needed or boil fresh batches everyday. It is recommended to drink 1-2 glasses a day (depending if you’ve got other teas or soups already filling your tummy!). Do not add additives like sugar or salt. Keep it clean, light and natural.
I am writing about the ginger peel specifically because while normal people don’t use the skin very often, the Chinese highly value this “by-product” when it comes to confinement. It is commonly used for bathing purposes (either literally soaking the ginger peel in water and then rinsing your body with it or soaking your feet). What normally happens is that ginger is purchased in bulk (huge, huge amounts for confinement – especially the pig’s feet in ginger dish) and none of the ginger is wasted.
Peel the ginger in its entirety. The peel is dried, while the ginger itself is cut up and used in various dishes and soups and stews. For me, I am not a heavy believer of washing my body in ginger peel water, but did end up soaking my poor sore feet. The tradition falls back to historical (pre-electricity) Chinese confinement practices. Back in the days, after a woman gave birth, she was susceptible to virus, bacteria, disease because of the weakened condition of her body (for more information, you can do some leisure reading on the confinement practice). Ginger, being a heaty ingredient, enabled her body to stay and keep warm. Which is why she pretty much lived, consumed and breathed ginger. This also accounts for the reason why women were not allowed to wash their hair for a period of time after child birth – very likely because back then, drying the hair increased her risk because at some point, her hair would become cold (especially in the winter). Well, these days, we have the handy hair dryer and for those in colder climates, the benefit of a heating system – so the question is, do these traditions still apply?
Regardless, some traditions hold true and strong. My mother argues that the Chinese have thousands of years of history behind it and that as a western raised girl, I shouldn’t discount the power of generation-passed knowledge. Which is partially why I write and blog about everything I learn, because this is something I want to pass to my children eventually. Whether they take it with a grain of salt or think I’m off my rocker is a whole other story….
So to end this post, you’ll find within thechinesesouplady.com, we’ve got a host of information on confinement. That’s because collectively as a group of sisters, we’ve gone through 6 confinements personally and spoken to more sources than we can count on the practice. Veggie vendors, meat vendors, herbalists, the neighbor, your child’s classmate’s grandmother – everyone has a say and angle on confinement best practices and approaches. So please enjoy our collection of confinement soups and best practices.
You may have noticed that over the past few months we have been posting many pregnancy and confinement soup recipes to this site. As this blog closely follows the soups we are making for ourselves and for our families, you’ve probably already guessed that we have had a pregnancy in the family. Actually, we’ve had TWO!
On September 1, our sister Carol delivered a healthy baby boy and exactly one month later, on October 1, I (Tracy) welcomed my second daughter into the world. Carol and I and our babies both enjoyed very normal delivery experiences. Besides feeling only slightly weaker, after my daughter was born, I felt happy and healthy and ready to begin my month of post-pregnancy “confinement”.
There was so much to learn and celebrate as we experienced our Chinese culture. This was definitely our growth story!
Before I begin, you should know that my sisters and I are not into “extreme confinement”. That is, we do not strictly confine ourselves to our home, we shower regularly (and wash our hair, but do blow dry right away) and we even turn on the air conditioner (can’t survive +35C in Hong Kong)! That said, we do, however, take our confinement food (especially our soups, of course!) seriously.
Now that my confinement is done, here is a brief summary of my personal confinement story from a soupy perspective.
There were several soups I was required to drink throughout the entire confinement period. Every day, I drank three to five BIG bowls of soup. Each bowl was the equivalent of five or six smaller bowls (similar to the soup sizes served in Chinese restaurants) and it gave me a pleasant and warm feeling of being warm and full for most of the day. My confinement lady (a.k.a. our wonderful mother who is a true Chinese soup lady) cooked at least three different soups every day made from ingredients purchased fresh each day from the nearby wet markets in Hong Kong. The constant soups I drank throughout the day were:
Papaya Fish Soup
This soup is delicious and healthy and is used to help with milk production. When I was engorged (too much milk!) I continued to drink fish soup without the green papaya; instead, we substituted healthy vegetables such as sweet corn and tomatoes.
Chicken Herbal Soup
Everyday, a large pot of chicken soup was made with TWO fresh chickens (black silkie chickens were preferred). Using two chickens made for a very dense and nutritious soup. Drinking “heaty” soups is essential during confinement and so staple herbs included dried longans and fish stomach (pronounced as “fa gao” in Cantonese). Wolfberries and red dates for sweetness were also staples in the soup. Whenever I felt too heaty, we would not include any fish stomach or longans in the soup.
Another “constant” in the second half of my confinement period (after the 13th day) was the traditional ginger and vinegar “soup”. Almost every day, I would eat a small bowl of some pork meat and a boiled chicken egg which had been sitting and marinating in the tangy and delicious stew for days… yum!
Occasionally, my mom also made other drinks and soups for me to drink based on my specific needs. This would vary depending on how far along the confinement you’re at and how you’re feeling. And when I say unique, some of these are truly unique and new for me! The amazing thing about this experience is seeing the difference between Western and Eastern, and blending it so it’s really customized for me. For example, crocodile meat and soft-shelled turtle are common staple meats available in supermarkets in Hong Kong.
Black Bean, Rice and Ginger Water
While I was still at the hospital (the day of delivery), I started to drink an almost tasteless concoction made of water with boiled black beans, rice and ginger. This drink is said to help reduce “wind” in the body and “warm” it up to help with the healing process after giving birth. Instead of drinking water, whenever I felt thirsty, I was encouraged to drink this for the first week after delivery. After my milk came in, we stopped drinking this and focused on fish and chicken soups instead.
Soft-shelled turtles are a “healing” meat and are often consumed even outside of confinement / pregnancy. I drank this soup for only two days half-way through my confinement period to continue to help with the healing process. This should be consumed only if you are not sick as it is believed to “feed” your sickness as well.
DEer Antler with Korean Ginseng Soup
My sister drank this during her confinement as it is also considered a “healing” drink and popular among Chinese as a confinement soup. However, when it came time for me to drink this soup, I was already feeling too “heaty” and so we did not make this for me. Similar to turtle soup, this should be avoided if you are ill or have a fever.
Foods to avoid
All “cooling” foods and soups should be avoided during confinement. I occasionally craved the cooling foods, but was a “good girl” and resisted until after my confinement month was done. Even now, I am still only nibbling at “cool” foods and soups and will continue to do so until after the third month. Foods I avoided include:
Watermelon and other “melons”, including cantaloupe and honeydew
Tofu (and all soy products including soy bean drink)
I also avoided foods which are believed to be slightly “poisonous”:
Crab and other shellfish
Although I’m sure there are many other cooling and poisonous foods which should be avoided, these are the foods which stood out for me because I eat or drink them on a regular basis and had to consciously avoid them.
And here ends my confinement story. I’m happy to say the month is now done and I feel more free to do and eat what I please. If you have other tips or foods to eat or avoid during confinement, please share with us and our readers by posting to our comments.
Pig’s Feet with Ginger in Black Vinegar, Ginger and Vinegar Trotter Soup, Pig’s Feet and Ginger Soup
Traditional Chinese Name:
猪脚姜 (zhū jiǎo jiāng)
This is the ultimate traditional confinement food (or soup) in the Cantonese cuisine repertoire. This dish is so amazing that people eat it just for the taste and not for confinement.
It is consumed by men and women alike because it is flavorful and delicious. The ingredients aren’t the easiest to obtain and it is not a remotely easy dish to make, but during confinement (when the mother can eat a bowl a day), it’s worth it to make a large pot and give to friends. Traditionally, families will make large pots of this dish and give it out to friends and family to let them know that there is a new baby.
For more information on what confinement is and the Chinese ingredients associated with confinement, please see our Confinement Soups page.
Some things to note on the directions for this soup is that it’s more a guide, rather than a true recipe.
Since my mom is a pro at this, she doesn’t really follow measurements and simply makes it according to personal taste – so I’ve tried to adapt this recipe to that style.
Some prefer it more spicy (add more ginger), some prefer it more sour (add more black rice vinegar), some prefer it sweeter (add more sweet vinegar or brown sugar) or some prefer super hard boiled eggs (keep them boiling in the vinegar for at least 2 days).
Regardless of how your taste ventures, make sure you have a bit of spare ingredients to adjust the taste to your preference.
Prep time: 60 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 30 mins (for the soup)
Total time: 2 hours 30 mins
Serves: 10 bowls
1 whole pig’s feet, halved and cut into edible sections
Ginger is the highlight of this dish. That’s what makes it so potent, effective (to drive away the wind from the body), and gives it that little bit of spicy kick.
This part needs a good 1-2 days after you’ve purchased your ginger in bulk. Usually, when I see people buying ginger at the wet marts in bulk, we all know what’s cooking!
For this soup, the ginger pieces are kept rather large in chunks with their skin off. Once you peel the skin, don’t throw it out! For confinement, it is the perfect foot soak (or bathe if you’d like) for post partum.
Ginger preparation instructions:
Wash ginger and then leave to air dry for at least 1 day
Peel skin off ginger and dry both skin and peeled ginger (the skin is often used for bathing and soaking feet during confinement)
Cut ginger into large pieces
In a pan (or wok) on high heat with no oil, fry your ginger while stirring quickly for 5 minutes
Take out of wok and set aside
Preparing the Vinegar Soup Base
Be sure to use a clay or ceramic pot for these types of soups. Traditionally, that’s all they had back then and it does keep the flavour of the soup quite pure and can be stored in the pot and re-boiled as often as needed. In Hong Kong, the pre-made vinegar and even the soup itself are served, stored, and sold in clay pots. It becomes quite the workout to lug these things around!
In a large clay pot, add your sweet vinegar and turn on high heat until boiling
Add in prepared ginger
Reduce heat to low and boil (with cover) for an hour (until ginger is cooked)
Set aside until ready to add pig’s feet. I say this because during some confinements, people will have made the ginger-vinegar soup ahead of time in preparation for the birth of the baby.
Preparing the Pig’s Feet
There are also 2 parts to the preparation of raw pig’s feet. The first is to ensure the protein itself is clean and suitable for consumption. That means removing the hairs, the tougher parts of the skin, and the nails. The second part is to blanch it in boiling water. Interacting with the boiling water will immediately release all the insoluble protein, blood, bone bits, and fat, rendering it ready for soup production.
To remove the hair from the pig’s feet, you can either burn it off over a gas grill (with a hot flame) or using a sharp knife, scrape it off
Wash thoroughly in warm water
Half and cut the pig’s feet into edible sizes
Wash again in warm water (to remove the grits and bones)
In a pot of boiling water, blanch your pig’s feet for 5-7 mins
Preparing the Soup
When ready to eat, scoop out as much ginger-vinegar soup as you’d like to prepare for your portion of pig’s feet (so that you can continue to use, add more or keep your soup base)
Put into a smaller clay pot and apply medium heat until boiling. Add in blanched pig’s feet and black rice vinegar (to taste). The black rice vinegar will help soften the pig’s feet more. Add hard boiled eggs if desired.
Cover and boil on medium heat for 30 minutes (or until desired softness of feet).
Traditional Chinese Name: 水魚瘦豬肉湯 (shuǐ yú shòu zhū ròu tāng)
A warm and healing soup, it’s often recommended for cold winter days or confinement. The turtle meat is said to be a nourishing meat (similar to chicken) and should be avoided if you are sick. From our experience, even when properly cleaned, soft-shelled turtle meat may have a taste of the “sea” and may require ginger to counter the taste.